Court Digest

J&J subsidiary to pay $9.75M to resolve kickback allegations

BOSTON (AP) — A subsidiary of health care company Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle allegations that it violated federal and state law by providing free products to a surgeon to induce him to use its products in procedures, prosecutors said Friday.

Under the settlement with DePuy Synthes, the company acknowledges and accepts responsibility for giving the surgeon implants and instruments for spinal surgeries from 2013 though 2018, federal prosecutors said.

“We have fully cooperated with the government throughout its investigation of the allegations and were credited for that cooperation in the settlement,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. “This settlement avoids further lengthy legal processes. We are committed to ensuring our employees conduct business in a way that complies with our credo and with all laws and regulations.”

DePuy, headquartered in Raynham, Massachusetts, manufactures and distributes medical devices including spinal implants.

The surgeon, whose name was redacted in the agreement, performed more than 20 operations over the course of multiple trips to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, during which he used about $100,000 worth of DePuy products that company sales representatives had provided to him.

The surgeon and the hospitals in which the procedures were performed did not pay for the products.

Prosecutors said DePuy provided them to induce the surgeon to use the company’s products in spine surgeries performed on Medicare and Medicaid patients in Massachusetts in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, which is intended to ensure that medical providers’ judgments are based on the best interests of patients and not compromised by improper financial incentives.

“Unlawful kickbacks can severely distort medical judgment as well as the market for medical devices,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins said in a statement. “The millions of patients that depend on our health care system deserve untainted medical decisions.”

About $7.2 million of the $9.75 million settlement will go to the federal government, and about $2.5 million to the state. More than $1.8 million of the federal portion will go to the whistleblower who brought the original suit in 2017 under a legal provision that lets private parties sue on behalf of the government and share in any recovery.


Woman gets ­probation in ­disabled son’s 2020 death

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (AP) — A northwestern Illinois woman has been sentenced to probation after pleading guilty in connection with the death of her 15-year-old disabled son, who weighed 38 pounds when he died.

A Rock Island County judge sentenced Jennifer Keim, 36, on Friday to four years of probation, the Quad City Times reported.

The Moline woman was initially charged with murder in Joseph “J.J.” Hammond’s November 2020, death, with prosecutors alleging that Keim failed to provide “appropriate hydration, nutrition and medical care” for her son.

But in September, Keim agreed to plead guilty to an amended felony charge of criminal abuse or neglect of a person with a disability.

Rock Island County Assistant State’s Attorney Sean Williams had sought the maximum sentence of 14 years, saying Keim showed “a horrible lack of action” and noting that her son weighed just 38 pounds when he died.

Keim told the court that by November of 2020 the spread of COVID-19 had filled her with “overwhelming fear and panic.” Her attorney, Jon Ruud, told the court those fears about the pandemic had an impact Keim’s decision-making.

“We might not remember it well today, but in the fall of 2020 the world was on fire,” Ruud said. “We were told to not go to emergency rooms.”

Keim’s husband, Justin Keim, 34, is charged with neglect/abuse of a disabled person in the teen’s death.


Woman  enters child ­endangerment plea in toddler’s 2018 death

YORK, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania woman has pleaded guilty to child endangerment, 2 1/2 weeks after jurors acquitted her ex-boyfriend of murder and other charges in the death of her 2-year-old son.

Leah Mullinix, 26, entered an open plea to the third-degree felony charge last week in York County Court in the September 2018 death of Dante Mullinix.

Last month, jurors deliberated for about two hours before acquitting 43-year-old Tyree Bowie of first- and third-degree murder as well as child endangerment in the child’s death.

Bowie had been caring for Mullinix while the boy’s mother was in the hospital. Authorities said he brought the unresponsive boy to the same hospital that day and then fled, telling authorities the following day that he had fed the boy some animal crackers and later noticed he wasn’t breathing, Mullinix died eight days later.

An autopsy determined that the child died from traumatic brain injury, accompanied by strangulation and suffocation. His death was ruled a homicide. After his release from York County prison, Bowie visited the child’s grave in Mount Rose Cemetery in Spring Garden Township with more than a dozen friends and supporters.

After the plea by Leah Mullinix, Judge Amber Kraft ordered a pre-sentence investigation along with mental health and drug and alcohol evaluations. Mullinix’s attorney, Joshua Neiderhiser, said his client is currently in substance abuse counseling. The judge scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 20.

Mullinix’s sister, Sarah Mullinix, who had been trying to get custody of her nephew at the time of his death, said, “At least she’s owning up to it, well, part of it.” She has accused police of failing to properly investigate the case and county social service agency officials of not having heeded concerns about the child’s welfare.

Bowie, who was also in court during the hearing, said he was never offered a plea during the time he spent in the county prison awaiting trial. “It’s not fair that I lost four years of my life for something I didn’t do, and she gets to take a plea. It’s not right,” Bowie said.


Pair charged with hiding ­Russian ­oligarch’s ties to yacht

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two businessmen have been charged with trying to conceal a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s ownership of a luxury yacht seized in Spain last year by the U.S. government, the Justice Department said Friday.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Vladislav Osipov, a dual Russian and Swiss national who the Justice Department says was an employee of Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire Russian oligarch and ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Another defendant, Richard Masters, was arrested by Spain at the request of U.S. authorities. He’s a British businessman who ran a yacht management company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain — where Vekselberg’s yacht, Tango, was seized last April.

Prosecutors allege Vekselberg bought the Tango in 2011 and has owned it since then, though they believe he has used shell companies to try to obfuscate his ownership and to avoid financial oversight. He was sanctioned in 2018. All of Vekselberg’s assets in the United States are frozen and American companies are barred from doing business with him and his entities.

The Justice Department says the men worked together to hide Vekselberg’s ownership of the yacht from the U.S. government, even developing a fake name for the vessel, as a way to evade sanctions and to illegally collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S services and financial transactions.

They are charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with crimes including money laundering and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. It was not immediately clear if they had lawyers who could speak on their behalf.


New trial denied for woman charged as teen in mother’s death

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A woman convicted as a teenager in the murder of her mother almost eight years ago in eastern Pennsylvania has lost her bid for a new trial.

Jamie Silvonek, who turns 22 next month, was 14 at the time of the March 2015 slaying. She was sentenced to 35 years to life after pleading guilty in Lehigh County to first-degree murder and other charges.

A state Superior Court panel on Thursday upheld a lower court’s refusal to throw out her guilty plea on the grounds that her legal counsel was ineffective and the plea wasn’t knowing and voluntary.

The Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, which represented her, vowed an appeal. “We do plan to seek review in the (Pennsylvania) Supreme Court,” spokesperson Katy Otto told The (Allentown) Morning Call in an email.

Silvonek had testified that she plotted the murder of 54-year-old Cheryl Silvonek in Upper Macungie Township and urged Caleb Barnes in texts to carry it out. Barnes, of El Paso, Texas, a Fort Meade, Maryland soldier, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole plus 22 to 44 years.

Authorities said Barnes stabbed the victim in her car in the driveway after Barnes, Cheryl Silvonek and Jamie Silvonek returned home from a concert. Authorities said the defendants then buried the victim’s body and submerged her car in a South Whitehall Township pond. They were arrested within hours of the slaying.

Prosecutors said the woman had threatened to report Barnes, then 21, to police for having sex with her underage daughter. Jurors rejected Barnes’ argument at trial that the girl killed her mother and he only helped dispose of the body later because she said she was pregnant.

Silvonek previously lost her appeal to have her case sent back to juvenile court on the grounds that she has mental health issues. Her previous attorney has defended his representation, saying he called three expert witnesses seeking to have her tried as a juvenile, but once the judge ruled against that his options were limited.


Woman stole ­veterans benefits for decades after mom’s death

CINCINNATI (AP) — A woman who stole nearly $500,000 from the federal Veterans Affairs department by impersonating her dead mother for nearly 50 years has been spared a prison term.

Irene Ferrin, 76, of Cincinnati, had pleaded guilty last August to theft of public money. She was sentenced Thursday to a year of home detention and five years of probation, and also must repay the $461,780 that she improperly received.

Ferrin’s mother had received widow’s benefits since the death of her husband, an Army veteran who fought in World War II. When her mother died in 1973, Ferrin did not notify VA officials and instead forged her mom’s signature on the monthly checks, federal prosecutors said. She also sent the VA fraudulent paperwork from 1982 until 2017 to keep the theft going.

In 1973, payments were $250 per month, but they increased steadily over the years, according to court documents. By 2021, when the theft was discovered, the monthly payments were about $1,360.

According to court documents, Ferrin’s federal public defender said her father’s death “wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the family.” Ferrin moved her mother and younger siblings − then 8, 10 and 11 − into her home to live with her, her husband and their three young children.

After her mother died, Ferrin’s husband at the time told her to continue cashing the checks “in order to keep money coming in” to cover food costs and other bills, according to her attorney.